Friday, March 07, 2008

50 Book Challenge #14: 1491

I usually read fiction, since it takes longer to finish a nonfiction work and my time is precious, but Steve bought a copy of this and I needed something that would last me through a couple of airplane rides.

This book is supposedly about American Indians as they were before contact was made with Europeans in the fifteenth century, but the author is forced to rely on European sources and extrapolate backwards thanks to the paucity of written material about that period. The book is readable and packed with historical tales of individual kings and leaders from the various native societies. It does tend to get bogged down in the interpersonal struggles between various modern scientists, though, which is a shame. The appendices on Inkan record keeping and Mayan calendars make much better reading than the internal politics of the early 20th c. Smithsonian. Nevertheless, this is a very enjoyable pop look at a period of history that most of our schooling gave short shrift. Recommended. You can find a longer and more substantive review (which, by the way, brought the book to my attention in the first place) here.
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